The first half of the Toronto Blue Jays' 2023 season ended on a strong note. The offence rekindled some of the magic from last season as the team leapfrogged the New York Yankees in what has suddenly become a wickedly competitive AL wild-card race.
The 50-41 pre-All-Star break record might not live up to fans’ lofty preseason expectations, but it’s still passable. The Jays are in a good spot. That said, August, September, and October present new challenges and possibilities.
Here are five bold predictions for the Blue Jays’ second half.
Alek Manoah becomes a trustworthy playoff starter
Manoah won’t be the ace he was last season, but if his July 7 start versus the Tigers foreshadows his future, the kid will be alright. The 25-year-old looked reborn in that outing, twirling six innings of one-run ball with eight strikeouts and, most importantly, no walks.
There will be more missteps, and Manoah must avoid tumbling into a mental black hole again when he fails. Still, I’ll count on Manoah to lower his ERA to a mid-4.00, representing a grand victory for the Blue Jays. At that point, the starting pitching can be reassessed. Perhaps the Blue Jays still roll with Kevin Gausman, José Berríos, and Chris Bassitt. Perhaps not.
Manoah doesn’t have the sleekest big-game reputation, but who wouldn’t want to see "Big Puma" have another chance under the bright October lights?
Blue Jays strike a big deal with Cardinals for Hicks, O’Neill
I’m anticipating a little razzle dazzle in the second half, and St. Louis is a perfect ally for a hefty trade deadline haul.
Jordan Hicks, for whatever reason, struggles against the Blue Jays (16.50 ERA). Luckily for Toronto, he shoves against the rest of baseball. Hicks’ volatile command might scare off other clubs, but not the Jays. The right-hander, who hit 104 mph earlier this year, immediately offers Toronto a high-upside middle reliever to pair with Nate Pearson.
O’Neill would solve a big problem for the Blue Jays’ offence. The British Columbia native owns a career .801 OPS versus left-handed pitching, making him a perfect plug-and-play platoon hitter to alternate with Brandon Belt, Daulton Varsho, or Kevin Kiermaier.
Bo Bichette passes Vernon Wells for Blue Jays’ single-season hits record
This might not even be a bold prediction. All year long, Bichette has pumped out hard contact, leading the AL with 122 hits through 90 games. The Jays shortstop is currently on track for 220 base-knocks, which would break Vernon Wells' 2003 franchise record of 215 hits.
Bichette will be the flint and steel if the Blue Jays ignite at any point in the second half. His .931 career OPS in September and October has earned him a reputation as one of baseball's most lethal late-season hitters. The 25-year-old is Toronto's offensive X-factor for the remaining 71 games.
Toronto threatens Tampa, Baltimore for AL East crown
From the jump, the Blue Jays have been playing catch-up. The Rays opened the season on a 13-game win streak, while the Orioles got off to a hot start and haven’t relented. But the Jays, ever on the fringes, are one surge away from making things interesting.
At the All-Star break, Toronto was seven games behind the once-infallible Rays. Now there are cracks in Tampa’s mighty armour. There’s a case to be made that, based on roster talent alone, the Jays are better than both the Rays and Orioles. Record is king, so that seems ludicrous, but Toronto honestly hasn’t had the entire offence — or more than one or two hitters, for that matter — fire at the same time.
The first step back is rectifying that miserable 7-20 record versus AL East teams. Watch for the Jays to win some critical series against the Orioles, Yankees, and Rays in the second half.
Kevin Gausman wins the AL Cy Young
The AL Cy Young landscape is like the wild west right now. We have a gaggle of gunslingers but no clear favourite, and Gausman could easily step up and snatch the award.
The right-hander isn’t the strike machine he was a season ago, but his strikeout numbers have exploded — he leads the AL in strikeouts (153) and K/9 (11.9) — and his H/9 has dropped to a more sustainable clip (7.9). Gausman is also the major-league leader with a 2.45 FIP.
Now, it’s understandable if you’re doubting Gausman’s gas tank down the stretch. He posted a 3.90 second-half ERA in 2022, which slid him to ninth in Cy Young voting. I'd argue some of his inconsistent start-to-start velocity this season is due to an effort to pace himself a little better, but if he can continue his swing-and-miss output through September, Gausman will win the award.